University of the Cumberlands has partnered with Spalding University and F2F – Bridging the Gap this summer to offer a virtual course on “bridging the gap.” Through the course, undergraduate students met virtually to engage in dialogue that crossed political, cultural, and experiential boundaries as a way to increase cultural competence and empathy on Cumberlands’ campus.

Jerton Evans, the director of diversity and multiculturalism at Cumberlands, said, “The primary goal of the course is for students to learn how to better listen, understand, be heard, and seek common ground without attempting to change minds or compromise deeply held values. Conversations about religion, race, politics, and policy are understandably hot-button issues, but they’re important to discuss. Conversations like these create constructive tension that helps solve problems across people groups for the betterment of humanity as a whole.”

Other course content included practicing skills in listening, dialogue, and self- and interpersonal awareness; national and international perspectives as they pertain to criminal justice; and courageous conversations on race in America. Guest presenters with various backgrounds in human services and criminal justice facilitated some discussions. 

Evans says he has received “tremendous” feedback from students.

“Students are speaking out more freely and excelling in great conversations,” he said. “These students are our future leaders. Giving them the tools they need to solve pressing problems with those of different backgrounds and beliefs will not only benefit their lives after college but will benefit our whole communities as well.”

In the coming year, Evans hopes to continue hosting campus events that open up space for these kinds of discussions to continue. Ultimately, the hope is that the individuals who participate in these open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations will grow personally and spiritually.